In the middle of the desert, a colorful sign from above sheltered them from the storm.
Posted in , Aug 26, 2021
Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where my grandparents lived, was a different world from what we were familiar with in our California neighborhood. Their house on the outskirts of town felt like the very edge of civilization when we visited that summer I was 13 and my brother Scott was 10. We didn’t have a boring moment, exploring all we could.
We hiked and climbed across desert, canyons and washes, despite the August heat. We went “skiing” down the low hills close to my grandparents’ house, scampering to the top and sliding all the way down on our feet through the sand, stones and loose shale.
As fun as it was, we knew the desert could be dangerous too, especially during the month the locals called monsoon season. Nearly every August afternoon, starting around 2 or 3 P.M., heavy storm clouds moved in over Lake Havasu. Some days we got a light rain for 15 minutes or so; other days a downpour lasted for hours. In this thirsty land, flash floods were common and deserts became violent rivers in an instant.
“The washes can be exceptionally dangerous,” my grandfather warned Scott and me one afternoon on our way to get ice cream. He pointed toward a dry creek bed up ahead. “Not long ago a family of tourists tried to cross there in their car during a downpour,” he said. “The current was so strong it washed the whole car away, and the family couldn’t be saved.”
Scott and I looked at each other in alarm. We had come to expect the afternoon thunderstorms, had learned to recognize the unique puffs of air that meant one was coming. But we had not imagined the event could be deadly. Granddad’s story reminded me of the story of Noah’s ark—without the ark.
When we got back home, Scott and I decided to go hiking. We took our explorations a little farther afield and set out for the wash behind Junior Cupcake, a rock formation on a steep hill. “It really does look like a cupcake!” Scott said when we got there.
The wash behind Junior Cupcake was deep, 8 or 10 feet in some places. It was also quite wide for a wash, I realized when we made it to the middle. I shuddered to think of the heavy floods that would come through when it rained hard. But the coolness at the bottom of the wash was a relief from the August heat on the desert floor. Amid the few palo verde trees growing in the center, along with sage and scrub brush, Scott and I kept our eyes peeled for any wild animals we could spot, like cactus mice and dogface butterflies.
“Look!” I said. “I found a lizard hole.” The wash was home to a variety of lizards—earless, side-blotched, zebra-tailed—we’d seen them all.
Scott and I had been wandering around the wash for a while when I felt it. A tiny puff of air on my neck, as if someone had come up behind me and softly blown on my skin. Scott must have felt it too, because we both looked up. Dark clouds had moved in without us even noticing. As we gazed skyward, we heard the ominous rumble of thunder.
I looked around at our position and saw it with new eyes. We were at the bottom of a deep, wide wash. So deep we couldn’t just climb up the sides. Somehow we had to make it all the way back to Junior Cupcake and the entrance to the wash. We’d never make it in time.
I thought about the story Granddad had told us just a few hours before. No doubt Scott was thinking of that story too. “What do we do?” he asked, his eyes full of fear.
What did Noah do? “Pray!” I said. I grabbed Scott’s hands. “God, please hold back the rain until we get home.” I looked at Scott. “Now run!”
We raced back the way we came, right down the center of the wash. I was surprised how quickly the rock came into sight up ahead. Is it really possible we got here this fast?
There was no time for questions. The black clouds filled the whole sky above us, covering us in shadow. Any second, I thought, the rain’s going to hammer us.
Instead, the air brightened, and Scott and I looked up. The clouds directly above us had opened. Shafts of sunlight streamed through the circular gap. Around the hole a rainbow formed. Hadn’t God sent a rainbow to Noah when the flood was over? As a sign of his protection?
Rain began to fall. The drops pounded the ground at our feet—but not one drop was hitting us. Scott and I remained completely dry under our rainbow.
Without a word between us, we kept running. The rainbow kept pace. Past the palo verde trees, past the wash entrance, past Junior Cupcake, backtracking on our hike from our grandparents’ house. Not only had we gotten to safe ground far more quickly than I could have guessed, but we’d also run hard and I wasn’t even winded. The clouds were still churning beyond the space above us. The rain was still falling on all sides. But our circular rainbow stayed right above us all the way.
When we hit Grandmother and Granddad’s yard, the hole in the clouds began to close and the rainbow faded away. I felt the first drops on my head just as we reached the door. “We made it!” Scott said. We were home, safe and sound, nearly untouched by the downpour.
It was a story Scott and I would keep to ourselves for a long time, a hard-won lesson for two eager kids who gained a healthy respect for prudence in future explorations. I have seen many rainbows since that day in the desert, and I always send a prayer for whoever is in need of divine protection.
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